We all know print media is on the decline, but no better example than the once stellar Lonely Planet naming one of the worst countries in the world #1 in its Top Ten Destination List.
Lonely Planet named Uganda #1 explaining, “It’s taken nasty dictatorships and a brutal civil war to keep Uganda off the tourist radar, but stability is returning and it won’t be long before visitors come flocking back.”
That was in November. Stability has not returned; it’s getting manifestly worse. And tourism has sunk to levels not seen since Idi Amin, and rightly so.
Yesterday Uganda’s main opposition leader, and in fact all opposition politicians in Parliament, were arrested without charge, following another (how many now, 24?) brutal battle on the streets of a Kampala suburb. (Most politicians, including the leader Kizza Besigye, were released late today.)
This is not a place you want to visit. Demonstrations have continued since the current dictator’s rigged last election more than a year ago. Tourism has plummeted. The road from the international airport at Entebbe to the capital of Kampala – the only road from the airport – and thence to the rest of the country is lined with police and military.
And even as some of the country’s other lower corrupt politicians try to join the twevolution of Besigye, Yoweri Museveni’s grip is tightening. This week he simply ignored Parliament’s initial moves to impeach him, and there is every indication he will jail anyone associated with moving such legislation forward.
He has jailed, fired and reappointed cronies to Uganda’s judiciary. Patent corruption of the highest kind, giant under-the-table payments from oil companies and huge swindles of private land, are widely known. But today Uganda’s newly reconstituted courts threw out all attempts to allow Parliament to investigate further.
The pattern is identical to the early days of Zimbabwe, and I must admit having traveled in Zimbabwe during the same period, there. Travel right now – if you miss a demonstration and take extra time for military check posts – can actually be an incredible value, since tourist costs have dropped so much.
From a safety point of view, if you miss the demonstrations tourists are more or less being left to their own devices.
But like Zimbabwe, the demonstrations will increase before the country settles into a state of awkward misery, where fuel and sometimes even food becomes scarce. Where officials like park rangers go on the take just to stay alive. It’s hard to predict exactly when such a time occurs.
Lonely Planet’s list was eclectic at the least. Myanmar and Switzerland also made the Top Ten.
About the only truth to Lonely Planet’s naming Uganda is that Uganda is even more lonely than before.